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Final Destination 3

(2006) ** R
92 min. New Line Cinema. Director: James Wong. Cast: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ryan Merriman, Kris Lemche, Alexz Johnson, Sam Easton.

With Final Destination 3, writer-director James Wong returns to the franchise he started (with writing partner Glen Morgan) in 2000. Final Destination had the distinction of a clever premise that took the slasher out of the slasher movie. In the Final Destination films, the invisible force of Death stalks teenagers who—by the inexplicable grace of prophetic visions—narrowly escaped their designed demises. In Wong's world, once Death makes up its mind, only tortured logic stands a chance against it.

The first film essayed the attempts to dodge the destiny of a plane crash, Final Destination 2 involved a multiple-car freeway disaster, and Final Destination 3 takes us for a fatal ride on a roller coaster. McKinley High's Grad Night turns tragic when the "Devil's Flight" coaster rides off the rails, but thanks to the pre-ride premonition of a girl named Wendy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), several students hop off the ride and cheat Death.

It's only a matter of time until the young cast gets pureed in the series' trademark Rube Goldbergian death sequences, unless Wendy and reformed jock Kevin (Ryan Merriman) can decipher photographic clues and alter destiny. Morgan and Wong's snarky iterations on their initial premise don't show much development here (other than a change of venue), and the characters are paper-thin. What Wong mostly brings back to the party is a thickly gruesome tone, a knack for high-tension, and the aforementioned snark (The Lettermen's "Turn Around, Look at Me" is used to maximum effect as Death's theme song).

Wong feints at a theme of fear emerging "from a sense of having no control," as represented by the happy screamers on the roller coaster and, by extension, in the movie theater. In the end, though, Final Destination 3 is little more than an empty exercise designed to prove there's another story in the premise. Morgan and Wong lose that gambit by producing essentially the same story, dressed up with pointless allusions (to presidents and their assassins, and to 9/11) and the latest batch of tricky-sick deaths. It's a fair diversion but, make no mistake, a waste of time.

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